Contagion within an Organization

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We in the Western world tend to value individuality very highly. We admire visionaries like Martin Luther King Jr, Pablo Picasso, and Steve Jobs, who have had an enormous impact on history and culture. We understand that one single individual can introduce a whole society to new ways of thinking about the world.

Nevertheless, it is always easier—and more common—for an individual to have a negative impact, to tear down rather than build up. As cynicism and negativity become increasingly prevalent in our age, I am constantly reminded the old adage that says, “any mule can kick down a barn; it takes a carpenter to build one.” The book Remarkable! describes two types of employees who have the mule-like tendency to kick down rather than build up an organization: naysayers and self-victimizers.



A naysayer always has or is looking for a reason why something won’t work or is not possible. They consistently deny, refuse, or oppose new initiatives and ideas. Naysayers create a negative aura that saps the energy of everyone around them.



This is a person who constantly fabricates victimhood in order to shift responsibility to others. Because self-victimizers take no responsibility for their actions or current situation, they are incapable of looking for solutions that require themselves to change or take initiative. For the self-victimizer, the solution is always up to someone else.

Naysayers and self-victimizers short-circuit the leadership team’s attempts to create an effective organizational culture. But according to Remarkable!, there is a clear solution: empower your employees by entrusting them with the responsibility to solve problems and maximize each individual’s autonomy. That is the way to have an engaged workforce. Coercion has no place in such a culture.

Leaders can do their best to create an environment that is conducive for employee engagement and contribution, but ultimately it is up to each individual to take control of their own destiny and the destiny of the organization that they work within. Individuals have the power and freedom to do something or to do nothing. Each individual must genuinely believe that he or she really can make a difference, attempt it, and then take responsibility for the outcome. But that is exactly what naysayers and self-victimizers don’t do. They believe that they are powerless to positively impact their world, and so they are powerless to positively impact their world.

Leaders need to take seriously the threat that naysayers and self-victimizers pose for another reason: both mentalities are contagious. They can spread quickly throughout an organization’s culture, soon rendering the entire organization paralyzed by defeatism. The cure for such a cultural ailment is far more expensive than the cost of its prevention. For this reason, leaders must make every possible effort to convince naysayers and self-victimizers to embrace a more positive worldview. And if they don’t embrace it, they must be removed from the organization in order to keep it healthy and productive.


Image credit: Victor Habbick at

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